By Luis Escobar
Like a card shark who tried to play it close to the vest, Oscar De La Hoya is just the latest in a long line of guys who thought they were too smart for Vegas. Rather than make a statement with his fists De La Hoya opted to use his feet and it cost him.
Straight right hands over the last four rounds proved to be the difference as Felix Trinidad rallied to secure a majority decision over the "Golden Boy." Proving once again that officials in Sin City always give the edge to the guy who makes the fight and risks all.
The ex-WBC champion De La Hoya literally ran himself out of a victory that he seemingly had won, when he failed to throw enough punches over the last 12 minutes of the welterweight battle. De La Hoya had appeared to control the first eight rounds of the contest but then went conservative and let the judges decide his fate.
Judge Glen Hamada of Kent, Washington, scored the bout a draw 114-114. However, Jerry Roth of Las Vegas gave the nod to Trinidad, 115-113, while Bob Logist of Belgium tallied 115-114, also for Felix. The Boxing Times scorecard had De La Hoya winning, 115-113, in a bout that featured no knockdowns.
After dominating most of the action with superior movement, quick combinations, and accurate jabs, De La Hoya started laying out his left hand in the 9th and Trinidad responded with ramrod rights. In effect it wasn't so much that Trinidad won but rather De La Hoya gave it away down the stretch.
"I knew Oscar was a great fighter, but I knew I had the will to win," Trinidad said after the surprising victory. "I came to win. I'm very humble. I didn't know if I'd win by a knockout or decision, but I knew I would win. I knew it would be very close. In the later rounds, I put on the pressure."
De La Hoya was gracious in defeat but he was still seemingly in shock when he addressed the media.
"I thought I had won easy," the former champion said after the loss. "I can stand in there with anybody, but I wanted to demonstrate a boxing show. I felt in my heart it was working. I wanted to demonstrate a boxing lesson and I guess the people didn't appreciate it."
The IBF king Trinidad (36-0, 30 KO's) was the first to enter the arena and he had a difficult passage down the crowded aisle to finally get to the ring. The start of bout was further delayed when Trinidad's corner failed to bring an extra mouthpiece along with their equipment.
During the pre-fight instructions in the center of the ring by referee Mitch Halpern, De La Hoya ( 31-1, 25 KO's) as is his custom, stared straight up at the ring lights rather than look his opponent in the eye. De La Hoya's reasoning is he doesn't want to show his opponent any pity once the contest begins, however, he failed to keep that promise over the last four rounds.
Round One: De La Hoya (147, 1999) opened the scoring in what was largely a tactical first round by connecting with a short left hook to the head at the 2:05 mark. De La Hoya, 26, began to dictate the pace of the bout and with 1:34 left in the 1st, and rattled a quick combinations off the pursuing Trinidad's (147, 1999) face. Boxing and moving to his left, De La Hoya, East Los Angeles, CA. came down off his toes long enough to score with another sharp combo with less than 30-seconds remaining in the opening stanza.
Round Two: Both men traded left hooks in the first few seconds of the second round, but De La Hoya rapidly returned to boxing and moving. With 1:42 to go in the 2nd, De La Hoya, 5'11", nailed Trinidad, Cupey Alto, Puerto Rico, with a rifle shot left jab to the nose. The crowd began chanting, "Tito, Tito, Tito," as the IBF champ picked up the pace. Seconds later, De La Hoya scored with another stiff left jab and Trinidad's, 5'11", nose began bleeding. At the 41-second mark, Trinidad, 26, momentarily was able to cut the ring and delivered a solid right hand that caught De La Hoya flush on the chin. However, with less than 10-seconds remaining in the 2nd, De La Hoya countered with a straight right hand to the jaw and followed up just before the bell with another clean right to the chin. The crowd responded at the close of the round with loud cheers as both men returned to their corners.
Round Three: Both boxers exchanged jabs to open the third, but De La Hoya's accuracy proved to be the difference and within seconds Trinidad's white satin trucks were spotted by his own blood. Sliding left, or right, and making sure not to make a mistake, De La Hoya continued to connect with hard left jabs dead center between Trinidad's watering eyes. With under 40-seconds to go in the 3rd, De La Hoya connected with another jab and then bounced a rapid one-two off the IBF king's face. By the conclusion of the round, De La Hoya returned to his stool brimming with confidence while across the ring Trinidad displayed quiet resolve.
--Shades of Willie Pep--
Round Four: At the 2:44 mark of the 4th, De La Hoya stepped inside and landed a fast left-right-left combination and then started eating up real estate. His plan to neutralize Trinidad's power by constantly moving and occasionally stopping long enough to fire quick shots continued to pile up points. Moments later, De La Hoya scored with a sharp right hand to the chin on the advancing IBF king. However, Trinidad kept his poise and with 1:56 to go in the round connected with a long straight right hand to the head. The Puerto Rican champion continued to put pressure on the elusive De La Hoya and with 1:16 to go in the 4th, connected with a sharp right hand to the chin. De La Hoya went downstairs via a digging left hook with less than a minute remaining in the round, but Trinidad countered with a solid hook of his own. Throughout the fight in the first eight rounds, De La Hoya rallied in the last ten-seconds of each stanza and the 4th was no exception. The WBC champ scored with a stiff jab soon followed by a sharp hook at the bell.
Round Five: After scoring with a solid hook early in the 5th, De La Hoya remained outside and depended on great footwork to keep him out of trouble. To his credit, Trinidad continued to try and mount an attack as De La Hoya feinted, retreated, and gave ground while looking to land his jab. At the 54-second mark of the 5th, De La Hoya paused and unloaded another quick scoring combination. However, Trinidad stayed loyal to his arsenal and ripped De La Hoya with a sharp right hand to the jaw. Just before the bell De La Hoya answered and clocked Trinidad with a stinging left jab, straight right hand down the middle, and a thudding hook to the temple. As Trinidad returned to his corner his left eye was noticeably swollen and appeared on the verge of swelling shut. Between rounds his corner stayed busy as Endswell was applied under the left eye in an effort to improve his vision.
Round Six: De La Hoya was back up on his toes in the sixth and drilling Trinidad with more jabs. The flow of blood from Trinidad's nose increased and his white trunks began taking on a pinkish hue, as he continued his pursuit of the fleeing WBC champ. De La Hoya went back to work with his popgun but at the 1:35 mark, Trinidad answered with a whistling right hand to the jaw. Even when Trinidad missed his shots there was a noticeable high velocity arc to his punches. Late in the round with 28 -seconds to go, De La Hoya landed a solid counter right hand to the point of the chin and then followed up moments later with a stiff hook.
Round Seven: Trinidad started having some degree of success with thudding left hooks to the body in the seventh that began robbing De La Hoya of his energy. He was unable to double up on the shots but periodically would sink a screaming hook into the chiseled De La Hoya's rib cage. De La Hoya returned to jabbing and moving and seemingly dominating the fight from the outside despite Trinidad's occasional heavy artillery. Three consecutive left jabs were on target for De La Hoya and then at the 17-second mark, he connected with three straight right crosses down the middle. Trinidad rattled a shot off De La Hoya's head just after the bell and both men exchanged verbal insults prior to returning to their stools.
Round Eight: Trinidad's corner had worked their magic on their man, and the swelling under his left eye was surprisingly small at the outset of the eighth. At the 1:53 mark of the 8th, De La Hoya scored with yet another clean right hand down the middle. Trinidad continued to try and cut the ring but seconds later, De La Hoya nailed him with another sharp right hand to the chin. Both men traded shots with 1:08 to go, as Trinidad connected with a hard right but De La Hoya answered with a brisk three-shot combination. Trinidad regained control of the center of the ring and De La Hoya was forced to move along the ropes in an effort to elude his heavy punches.
--Running Out Of Gas--
Round Nine: At the 2:17 mark of the ninth round, De La Hoya flurried with a quick four-punch combo to the head and body that forced Trinidad to step back. Seconds later, De La Hoya stepped back inside and scored with another fast volley. With 1:42 to go in the 9th, Trinidad caught De La Hoya on the ropes long enough to land a sharp right hand over the top. The blow tagged De La Hoya above the left ear and he skittered away. A long grazing right hand from Trinidad just missed the mark as De La Hoya kicked it into overdrive trying to escape along the ropes. Moments later, Trinidad sank a sharp hook into De La Hoya ribs and then followed with a chopping right hand up top. De La Hoya attempted to fight back and with 32-seconds remaining in the 9th, caught Trinidad with a straight right hand down the middle. The punch landed flush and for a split-second Trinidad's legs wobbled as he lurched backwards. Just before the bell, De La Hoya scored with a short three-punch volley but it apparently did little to impress the officials.
Round Ten: Trinidad went back to work to open the 10th and began taking control of the contest. With 2:35 to go in the round, Trinidad caught De La Hoya with a left hook to the side of the head, followed by an overhand right to the face, and yet another hook to the jaw. De La Hoya put it in reverse and Trinidad stayed on the attack. Instead off snapping out his jab as he had done in the nine previous rounds, De La Hoya began getting lazy with his left and Trinidad started firing counter right hands over the top. With under 36-seconds remaining in the 10th, Trinidad scored with another long right as De La Hoya bounced up and down along the ropes. Trinidad closed out the tenth with another volley while De La Hoya's returned fire with wide looping punches that lacked steam. All the moving had taken its toll on De La Hoya. He seemed winded as his return to his corner.
Round Eleven: Both of De La Hoya's co-trainers Robert Alcazar and Gil Clancy stressed that he was in front and not to make mistakes over the last two rounds. That conservative strategy would prove to be the turning point in the fight and set the stage for Trinidad's victory. Both men traded jabs to open the eleventh but De La Hoya kept his pawing left out in front and Trinidad quickly countered over the top with a sizzling right hand to the jaw. With De La Hoya maneuvering along the ropes, Trinidad walked his man down and scored with two more sharp right hands. De La Hoya's left eye which had been reddening over the course of the battle began to swell. De La Hoya lacked the stick to keep Trinidad away and the IBF king kept up the pressure with two digging left hooks. At the 1:47 mark of the 11th, Trinidad scored with a shooting right hand lead and sweat cascaded off De La Hoya's head. The first clinch of the fight occurred at the 1:26 mark when De La Hoya grabbed Trinidad around the neck and the referee Halpern was forced to break the fighters. Halpern issued a brief warning to break clean and the action resumed. Trinidad was relentless as De La Hoya faded and caught the WBC champ with a sweeping left hook high on the head. As De La Hoya danced along the ropes, Trinidad feinted his left and then tattooed him with a lead right hand square on the mouth. At the bell, De La Hoya slowly returned to his corner while Trinidad raised his right hand to the cheers of the fans.
Round Twelve: Trinidad opened the final round by scoring with another lead right and then followed up with two more shots to the head. De La Hoya's feet did a quick two-step and the undefeated champion looked weary. With 2:06 to go in the bout, Trinidad connected with a long right hand to the head. De La Hoya tried to slip the blow and ended up looking out at the crowd. Seconds later, Trinidad fired another lead right that missed but gave the impression that De La Hoya had been tagged. De La Hoya's lead continued to evaporate as Trinidad connected with a stiff left hand up top. Halfway through the round the crowd began voicing their displeasure by booing De La Hoya. The confident WBC champ dropped his gloves to his sides and bounded around the ring as Trinidad continued to try and unload. At the 10-second mark, Trinidad finally landed a swift one-two, as De La Hoya returned limited fire.
At the bell De La Hoya raised his gloves in triumph. Trinidad glanced across the ring at his opponent and respond in kind with the same mannerism. Both athletes were quickly lifted on the shoulders of their seconds and paraded around the ring as the fans cheered.
Both men and exchanged congratulations in the center of the ring as they awaited the verdict. Trinidad climbed atop the ropes and saluted his fans. When Michael Buffer announced Hamada's scorecard of a draw, De La Hoya could only shake his head and mutter, "Oh, come on." Following the next scorecards that gave the fight to Trinidad, the Puerto Rican champion raised his arms in victory and sank to the canvas in jubilation. De La Hoya staggered away from Buffer's announcement and rocked back sideways while shaking his head in disbelief.
"My tactic was to take away his confidence," De La Hoya said after the loss. "He's a great fighter. People were expecting me to duke it out. I was making him miss and making him pay. I'm hurt inside emotionally. My plan did work, but he's a good fighter and a great champion. I praise him a lot and hope we can do it again."
Perhaps once and for all, De La Hoya has learned that you can't win a fight running away. While he very well have been winning the fight on most of the writers cards, he didn't do enough to sway the judges.
Often during his career the "Golden Boy" has been compared to Sugar Ray Leonard. However, during Leonard's greatest test when he was losing to Thomas Hearns, he somehow found the strength to rally and ice the "Hitman."
De La Hoya needs to reflect on how he will chose to be remembered. Hopefully, the next time out, he will take it out of the judges hands, or go out on his shield
Vassilly Jirov (22-0, 20 KO's) retained his IBF cruiserweight crown by scoring a 10th round TKO over "Cowboy" Dale Brown (18-1-1, 11 KO's). Jirov (188, 1999) dropped Brown ( 190, 1999) at the end of the fifth round with a left uppercut followed by a right cross. A clean left hook to the liver floored Brown in the 10th and before referee Richard Steele could finish his count he waved off the contest. Eric "Butterbean" Esch (47-1, 36 KO's scored a TKO at 1:35 of the 2nd round over Ben Craven (12-6-1, 11 KO's). Esch (320, 1999) outweighed Craven (210, 1999) by a ridiculous 110 pounds. Mia St. John (13-0, 8 KO's) TKO victory over Kelley Downey (3-2, 3 KO's) at 1:40 of the 4th. Super flyweight Eric Morel (23-0, 16 KO's) pounded out a commanding 12-round unanimous decision over Miguel Angel Granados (19-9-1, 8 KO's).